Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley – a Cumbrian woman wonders if her pies may be her future

Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery: Amazon.co.uk: Bramley, Cathy: 9780552173940: Books

Hetty’s Farmhouse Bakery by Cathy Bramley


Hetty is a farmer’s wife, a mum to Poppy, and will bake pies for every good cause in the area. However, when Poppy is asked which woman she admires, it is her aunt Naomi she names, and Hetty begins to think that she wants an independent role, not just to back up her busy husband. While she loves her husband Dan he is completely wrapped up in the family farm that he inherited unexpectedly early before he could follow his dream of training as a vet. She gets on extremely well with her sister in law who runs a farm shop, her mother in law who lives locally, and her life long best friend Anna, single mother and school nurse. 


This is a novel of a woman who realises that she wants to establish something for herself, her own business, a new start surrounded by those whom she loves. Set in the beautiful hills of Cumbia, this is a book which establishes a sense of a lovely if remote place, where the community is close and gossip spreads. It looks at the life of contemporary farmers who diversify into other ventures to survive. It examines long term relationships and friendships, old and new romance, and new opportunities. Hetty tells the story from her own point of view, and Cathy Bramley is so skilled at creating a voice of a lively and sometimes confused woman. Hetty’s particular talent is making free form pies with delicious short crust pastry, and it is this skill which she believes she can use to establish her own business, and much of the novel describes how she tries to do so in the face of unforeseeable difficulties. With funny dialogue and some moving moments, this is an engaging and endearing book.


The book begins with Hetty meeting Anna at the parents evening for their respective children. Bart, Anna’s son, is a match for Poppy who has a cheeky sense of humour, whereas Hetty’s nerves and style is to blurt out what she is thinking, much to the embarrassment of her offspring. Rusty, Hetty’s much loved and elderly dog is ill, and the situation makes Hetty reassess her daily life. When Naomi secretly enters Hetty’s pies for a competition for best Cumbrian foods, it makes Hetty wonder if she could do more to establish the sale of her pies through different outlets and create a business. As she receives an exciting invitation it creates tensions with her husband, and begins to make her reconsider past loyalties.


This book can be seen as quite a light read on one level, with a family and friends at its heart. Yet it also has a lot to say about the role of women within a community and a marriage. Hetty’s situation is not uncommon in contemporary life, with a long time relationship which has its challenges and secrets. I found it really enjoyable and difficult to put down, as I became so involved with Hetty’s discoveries and decisions.The dialogue is lively and realistic, funny and endearing. This is an entertaining book which I really recommend to anyone who enjoys a book with a light story with deeper themes.


 Anyone who reads this blog regularly will realise that I enjoy a variety of books, and the difference between this book and yesterday’s sizable novel of much of John Ruskin’s life is considerable! 

Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin – an incredible novel of the complexity of Ruskin’s life and great love


John Ruskin was the celebrity art critic, writer and thinker of the Victorian age. This immense book traces the great love of his life, a much younger woman, Rose La Touche, in a style of leisurely description and enormous depth suitable to the Victorian era.  Rebecca Lipkin has made a tremendous effort to write a book which conveys something of the many aspects of Ruskin’s interests and talents, being able to  hold the interest of dozens of people in a lecture but struggling to cope with everyday relationships. This is a big book in every sense, as Lipkin describes a man struggling with his feelings for a young woman in enormous detail. It also contains descriptions of the many places in Britain and Europe where Ruskin stayed during his projects, such as preserving records of the buildings of Venice, which showed his obsession with projects which became more important to him than his relationships. It does not always proceed  in a linear way; there is a section about Ruskin’s unsuccessful marriage to Effie Gray and how his difficulties possibly stemmed from his relationship with his ambitious parents. Ruskin’s feelings for friends, and especially women, is detailed with loving care; Lipkin has not only researched his writings minutely but also set some of them in a context which goes some way to explaining his well documented actions. This is an excellent, astute and expansive fictional rendering of a life that has attracted much speculation and interest over the years, and I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this unique book.


The book opens with Ruskin, normally noted for his sober demeanor, chasing a carriage over Westminster bridge in London, full of excited vitality. It is because he believes he has caught a glimpse of a young woman, Rose La Touche, sitting in the carriage, so desperate is he to be once more in the company of the much admired young woman. The narrative then reverts to eight years earlier, when Mrs La Touche contacts Ruskin to request that he tutors her two daughters. His first reaction is to be incredulous, as his academic studies have been a near sacred pursuit for both himself and his devoted parents, and teaching children was a time consuming task for a man widely feted for his lectures and writing. Mrs La Touche is most persuasive, eager to add Ruskin to her social circle, and the younger child, Rose, is especially impressive in terms of her sense of humour and intellectual abilities. Soon Ruskin is uncharacteristically involved with the family, treasuring their time together, transfixed by Rose’s unconventional life view. He travels to the family home in Ireland, where he becomes absorbed in the scenery and wildness of Rose’s life, but leaves her parents unimpressed. Admiring Rose from afar, Ruskin tries to distract himself by travel, but a jealous Mrs La Touche brings up his unhappy time with Effie Gray which is the usual point of interest in Ruskin’s biography. This occupies a large section of the book, as well as giving an important insight into Ruskin’s ability to conduct a relationship. As the narrative reverts to the central timeframe, the reader has perhaps gained further insight into Ruskin’s mental state.


This is an impressive book in many ways, showing so many aspects of Ruskin’s life and works. It investigates his character thoroughly, suggesting the influence of his strong minded parents,his obsessive ability to concentrate on a project, and his devoted admiration of Rose. It is not a conventional romance, but it has much to say about the nature of love and its outworking in Victorian life. I found it to be an incredible experience to read, a moving and honest account of devotion, and an ambitious project in itself. This is an overwhelming novel of the complexity of a man using existing letters and other documents to compile a multi layered picture of a special relationship in fiction, answering some questions and raising so many more as the reader becomes totally involved in the story of Ruskin and the much admired Rose.   

Green Hands by Barbara Whitton – an Imperial War Wartime Classics account of being a Land Girl


 Being a Land Girl during the Second World War was not an easy option, and certainly not the clean, picturesque harvesting of the posters. This is a fictionalised memoir of the experiences of Margaret Hazel Watson who wrote under the pen name of Barbara Whitton. This book was first published in 1943 when the War was far from over, and so not celebratory in any sense. It has been republished in the excellent Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series and made available to a whole new audience.


This is an account of the experience of a Land Girl over a year as she battles with weather, hard back breaking work and uncomfortable lodgings. It also shows her attempting a tricky job and discovering the different tasks connected with harvest. Written with the authentic voice of someone who actually experienced all of the small details of life on the farms as well as the wide range of treatment, Whitton explains how the young women were actually treated as untrained workers and only barely tolerated by some farmers. Indeed two of the girls are greeted by a farmer with the words “Well’, he says in a sort of doleful chant, ‘how do you think you are going to like the land? I doubt if you will last long.” There were eighty thousand women working on the land officially in 1943 after conscription took place, and they were probably subjected to some antagonism as well as gratitude for their efforts. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.


The book begins with an account of Barbara (called ‘Bee’)and her friend Anne arriving at a Scottish farm called Spital Tongues with a lot of luggage. Asked to share a double and uncomfortable bed is one thing, only having one drawer between them, and depending on candle light is another. Beginning work at six in the morning, they are expected to work until nine without breakfast. It is back breaking work lifting mangolds from the field in freezing sleet, and Anne utters her catch phrase “Any minute now I shall do a roaring pass out”. It is seriously heavy work, and that combined with bad weather and little food makes life difficult. Another girl, Pauline arrives, and the three young women have some adventures together, especially as the son of the house Walter has some designs on Pauline. 


Bee and Pauline are then sent to a farm in Northumberland where the work is less challenging but still hard at harvest time. Bee is especially challenged and charmed by her job delivering milk, meeting customers and dealing with calves. There are points of humour and even enjoyment in a job which allows slightly more freedom of movement, even if the work is still hard. 


I enjoyed this vivid account of life as a Land Girl at a significant point in history. It is a truthful account of the hard work involved in farming with the minimum of machinery. This is a lively, vivid story of life written with some affection for the people and even the work which must be done. As with other books in the series, this account gives a real voice to people who were there, in all the ups and downs, especially the women. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a first hand account of life on the Home Front, especially women’s experiences, and this is a fascinating book for anyone.   


This is the eighth book in this collection that I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. They have been immensely vivid, recalling fictionalised accounts of traumatic and challenging situations, even dangerous times.   I have learnt a lot!

Eternal Forever by Syl Waters – a novel of internet image and online life


“Then an empty cobbled street and the blood – covered torso of what had been an extremely handsome young man”. This is a book which deals with the complications of online celebrity in life – and death. “Eternal Forever” is a company which offers, for a suitable fee, to organise and safeguard the online legacy of anyone who is willing to pay. The scheme is the brainchild of computer genius Ducan, but it takes the self appointed business expert Fran to organise the investment to begin the business and to keep it going. Happily Mack can find some enthusiastic young employees to come up with new ways of attracting business, but when singing sensation Jessie signs up for the post death image service everything gets more lively. This is a book which bounces around many questions of the importance of an online presence, and how people can become so wrapped up in the complexities of the internet that they lose all sense of perspective. This is a complex web of image manipulation in the contemporary world which has significant implications for real life. Money, fame and much more make people behave in strange ways in this insightful novel of fast moving life and death. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining novel. 


The motto of Eternal Forever is “How do you want to be remembered when you’re dead?”, and the whole concept of the company is to sell the prospect of an orderly online legacy with all social media accounts, emails and correspondence sorted out.  Duncan is the originator of the code on which the company depends, but knows that Fran will try and cut him out if at all possible. Eric is an unscrupulous potential investor with secret motives. John is another potential investor, with a daughter who is determined to be the next internet sensation, whatever it takes. The real pivotal point is when Tito, Jessie’s manager, is killed when with her in Spain. She takes shelter in her hotel room and pleads for help from Eternal Forever, despite their image management service only supposed to kick in after death. As discoveries and a future tragedy occurs, other people see the internet as a way of not only boosting their self image, but also presenting the opportunity to improve their whole life. As online images are manipulated, money moved and intentions questioned, the large cast of characters move and adjust to complex events.


This is a lively book full of characters who jostle and fight for what they want, only sometimes for the best of motives. Jessie is a character who is determined to take her moment of fame and make it as long as possible, while others aspire to establish their presence. Some want money, some want fame, and some want immortality. This is a book about survival, ambition and the price of fame, and what they all cost. It is certainly a book which keeps the pace up, as it moves from character to character speedily showing their motives and fears. A human story in which online activities motivates people, this is a vibrant novel of contemporary life in all its variety. I recommend this to all those who are interested in the potential of online images and more for good or bad.      

Those Who Know by Alis Hawkins – in mid nineteenth century Wales Harry and John investigate


Harry Probert – Lloyd wants to be local coroner permanently in his part of Wales. In 1851 it is a political appointment, and the election is surprisingly complicated – at least as far as Harry and his assistant John Davis are concerned. Life is difficult enough with Harry’s partial sight, dealing with the estate of his late father and suspicions which abound in the locality of a young man who went away to London to train as a barrister. 


This is the third book in the series of the Tefi Valley Coroner novels, though happily because of the way the book is written it is a standalone read. The past is alluded to sufficiently to convey John’s satisfaction at qualifying as a solicitor, but also his qualms about being steward to Harry’s newly inherited estate at Glanteifi. Meanwhile Harry is standing for the post of Coroner after doing the job for three months, and making himself unpopular with some people with his dogged pursuit of the truth into suspicious deaths that some would prefer to remain uninvestigated. As the characters slip between speaking English and Welsh, the rhythm of speech in this book has a special quality, with specific words and phases being explained and listed in the front of the book. Like the first two books in the series this is a beautifully written book which engages the reader’s attention and keeps it throughout, as the honesty with which the characters react is transparent. One of my favourite aspects of the novels is the emphasis on the female characters who are central to the narrative, and the importance of their actions to the story overall. Harry has his difficulties, John his insecurities, but essentially at this stage they work well together which makes for  a fascinating story. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book which continues a fascinating and well written narrative. 


The book begins with Harry being torn in two ways, between an election campaign orchestrated by Jonas Minnever promoting Harry’s cause with the support of the Liberal party, and an investigation into the suspicious death of Schoolmaster Rowland. The latter Harry regards as “a gift from the gods”, as he is fed up of being paraded around to voters in all the local gathering places. Rowland is not the typical village schoolteacher but a man of ambition for transforming education for both boys and girls in the area and indeed all of Wales. Helped by two local young women he has attempted to establish a collegiate education funded by well intentioned donors, but his disability has made him slightly more vulnerable to what at first seems to be an accidental fall. When a medical examiner questions the circumstances of the death, Harry resolves to ensure that an inquest  is a genuine enquiry into all the secrets of the death, even though it takes up all the time which Minnever wants him to devote to campaigning. The mysterious Phoebe Gwatkyn, of Alltybela, the local big house, admits to being a supporter of Rowland and offers to help together with her slightly irregular household. Meanwhile John has mixed feelings about the imminent arrival of Lydia Howell to be private secretary to Harry, partly to enable him to have more time for his responsibilities to the estate as well as his coroner’s work. Trying to juggle all commitments means that Harry has to deal with tasks not done, and an investigation compromised.


This book benefits greatly from the technique of switching from the point of view of Harry and John, which allows them both to be honest about their experiences  and feelings during the novel. This is such a well written and enjoyable novel that I found it a pleasure to read. Small flashes of humour and plain speaking, especially from Lydia and Phoebe, make this entertaining read, especially when John discovers a hitherto unsuspected side of London life. I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction which specialises in a terrific sense of place and character, embodying a well paced mystery and more.     

The Surplus Girls by Polly Heron – A lively novel of women affected by War losses in the 1920s

The Surplus Girls: Amazon.co.uk: Heron, Polly: 9781786499677: Books

The Surplus Girls by Polly Heron 


Following the First World War there was thought to be many “surplus women” who would not have the chance to marry and have families because of the large number of men killed in battle. This is a novel which concerns that problem in the case of Belinda Layton, oldest child of the challenging Layton family. Beginning in January 1922, Belinda still mourns her much loved fiance Ben and lives with his mother and grandmother rather than her family. She still makes contributions to her family’s housekeeping, as her feckless father brings in little money and drinks more. This is a highly intelligent story of a young woman desperately trying to improve her lot in a world where there are few opportunities for uneducated women, and many men are coping with the legacy of a traumatic war. Polly Heron is so skilful at creating characters that the reader grows to care about that when challenging things happen it can be so moving. Not that anyone is perfect; there are stubborn women clinging to the past, young people already gaining a bad reputation and some resourceful older ladies. There is humour, love and much more in this book of a group of people trying to find a better way to live. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book.


The book begins with Belinda working an extra Saturday shift in order to buy coloured fabric to break away from the black mourning clothes she has been wearing since Ben’s death. She has to cope with an abusive foreman, and a home life physically dominated by overwhelming grief. Visiting her own family shows her how little money her mother struggles to manage, with several younger siblings, and how difficult her life is in small rooms. Life for those struggling on small wages was very tough in the 1920s, and Belinda dispairs for herself in future as an unmarried woman, but equally for her mother who is unable to depend on her husband.  Meanwhile a pair of unmarried sisters suffer the loss of their father, and have to think laterally in order to preserve their home. When Belinda enters their lives she finds a whole new way of life offered , and an attractive young man. Meanwhile a young man is struggling to remember his very identity following a huge trauma in the War, and discovers that some answers only lead to more questions.  


This is a lively book which raises many questions about women who are seen as lower class by their clothes and lack of education. The desperation of the poor is explored, but not in a lengthy or extended way. There are twists and turns in this book which reflects real life well, as people must try to cope with difficult situations, and show various reactions. The research into the period is excellent, as both the settings and clothes are carefully detailed, but never in so much detail as to be tedious. This is a lively and well written book which will appeal to those who love “sagas” but also those interested in the very human and social realities of the time. Belinda is a well drawn character, and I also enjoyed reading Patience’s story. This is a novel which feels very authentic, and I look forward to reading future books in this series. 


A quick inspection of a certain website suggests that the next book in the series should be published in January – something to look forward to at least!

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac – a Wartime mystery from British Library Crime Classics

Checkmate to Murder: A Second World War Mystery (British Library Crime  Classics): Amazon.co.uk: E.C.R. Lorac: 9780712353526: Books

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac


A 1944 novel written with heavy fog, blackouts and blitz in the background, this is a murder mystery which is full of background atmosphere in all respects. This novel has happily been republished in the British Library Crime Classics and is another prized book by the successful and excellent Caroline Rivett who also wrote as Carol Carnac. The helpful Introduction written by Martin Edwards tells of Lorac’s war experience which featured her sadness at her friends’ being “bombed or burnt out of their homes”. This first hand observation lends so much credibility to a novel in which dense fog and the need to check the effectiveness of the blackout on a building are central to the facts of the novel, as well as the atmosphere of threat and excitement brought by the presence of a special constable and an off duty soldier. Uncertainty is at the heart of a clever mystery surrounding the brutal murder of an old man who seems to have been a miser in an essentially secret way. The characters, or suspects as it emerges in this clever and atmospheric novel, are variously described and expanded on in terms of dialogue, as their voices and speeches are presented in a lively way. Lorac’s clever and thoughtful Inspector Macdonald appears alongside his colleagues , Detectives Ward and Reeves, in a thorough investigation via dogged pursuit of everyone who may have relevant knowledge. This is such a good read and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book. 


The novel begins as Lorac sets the scene in an artist’s studio, lit in a specific way to allow the activities to continue despite the darkness and fog outside. At one end an artist, Bruce Manaton, paints a portrait of his model, an actor dressed in borrowed robes. Andre Delaunier is splendidly arrayed as a Spanish Cardinal, a memorable if bored sitter. At the other end two men, two respectable men sit absorbed in a game of chess. Robert Cavendish and Ian Mackellon are both respectable government employees, brought together by a love of chess. Meanwhile, Rosanne Manaton, sister of the rather temperamental  artist, is constructing a meal for those present from rations, as well as providing tea for a charlady who has been looking after their landlord who lives next door, the elderly Mr Folliner. When the door bursts open to admit an officious special constable dragging an injured young soldier the assembled group offer assistance, but the unpleasant man tells them a crime has been committed nearby and it is their duty to supply a lock up room to detain the young man while he bustles off to contact his police headquarters. They agree to take care of him while the message is passed on, though Rosanne feels sorry for the young man who has wrenched his ankle. It is the beginning of an investigation that will test the deductive powers of Macdonald and his men, as well as inquiring into many people both present and absent in the area that night. 


This is a clever and ultimately satisfying novel which contains effective descriptions of the atmosphere and setting in a run down part of London during wartime. The characters are so well realised, from the major actors to the peripheral people who supply the small clues and red herrings central to a sophisticated and successful mystery. The detection is both logical and consistent. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who enjoy murder mysteries and atmospheric wartime novels.


So this is another great read from the British Library Crime Classics series, and from the fascinating Second World War period which brings to life the weariness of London life. Whether writing as ECR Lorac or Carol Carnac, she wrote books which were clever and challenging entertainment which we can still appreciate today- especially in the Classics series.


A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble – the joys of a life less complicated in so many ways


This is a book that looks at “The Joys of a Life Less Complicated”  from the viewpoint of a well known television presenter. Kate Humble is keen to stress that this is not a how-to book of survival techniques using purely natural items, but it does include some recipes to use garden produce, especially if you have a glut of such things as chillies. It does have examples of living in a hut or minimal accommodation, but acknowledges that it is not for everyone. 


This is a book that looks at happiness in the simple things, rather than enormous salaries and sophisticated lives. The joys of walking, exploring and finding new ways around the countryside are extolled, along with discovering the fruit for free from hedgerows. This is not about expensive getaway cabins, but finding the importance of community effort and activities. The importance of repairing and reuse of household items, skills passed on through community hubs, and streamlining which household kitchen items are actually useful are central to this unusual book. Humble investigates the construction of houses from waste materials, especially useful in areas of natural disaster, at first hand for a very personal book. It is an honest read, as gardening failures are acknowledged and the limitations of some of the projects explored. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book which has a lot to say about how we live.


The book opens with a section on Humble and her husband living for short periods in a small cabin in France. She compares this with Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” which tells the story of the author’s own staying in a cabin for two years. While washing the entire laundry load by hand does not appeal to Humble, she does indulge in her own cabin adventures for limited periods which include constructing a satisfactory woodpile. On a less adventurous note, clearing out cupboards is shown as cathartic and rationalising the first aid kit a positive thing. The urge to put the garden on an organised footing involves obtaining help and laying out ambitious plans for planting specific flowers and vegetables. While it is labour intensive and there is expense involved, and despite a lot of planning, not everything grows and somethings simply disappear. There is a section about the repair of household items, and the spread of “Repair Cafes”, where people can bring broken or worn items and learn how to repair them in the company of others. This has the benefit of meeting people of various ages as well as the intrinsic repair of the items and extending their life. She also visits a site which makes “earthship” housing, simple buildings using materials such as old tyres and bottles, learning skills which can be transferred across the world. She admits that there are problems with using concrete – this is an honest look at the positives and negatives of situations. My favourite part were examples of the Shed Movement about men who seek company, to share skills but also simply communicate.


This is a carefully written and honest assessment of what can make us happy in today’s world. Humble is keen to stress that it’s not about money or earning high wages, quoting examples of people who have chosen to leave highly paid jobs to cook or garden, look after wildlife sanctuaries or build alternative houses. I did think that it is a little idyllic, presupposing health and the ability to set up alternative lifestyles financed from past work. Overall though this is a book which shows small steps to improve life in many ways, some of which would be  achievable for most people. A very readable book written in an approachable style, this is a fascinating book which I recommend to anyone who wants to consider alternatives or new emphasis in life.  


The Philosopher Queens Edited by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting – 20 women who made a difference


In the history of philosophy there are the big names – Plato, Locke and dozens of others that it is possible to name. The glaring omissions are a bit more tricky to name; Hypatia, Eliot, De Beauvoir and Warnock are women who were philosophers and writers, but who even specific histories of philosophy ignore. Not because their writings were unimportant or not influential, but simply because they were women. This brilliant book tries to address this by presenting twenty portraits of women who through the ages and across the world have been effectively philosophers, attempting to transform the world with their views, and often their protests. 


The reader does not need to have heard of these twenty brave women before to enjoy this book, as each writer who has written a portrait gives the basic biographical details in a colourful and lively way. As each of the twenty writers have a background themselves in philosophy and academic studies, their portraits give a fair idea of who each woman was, their importance in their own context and their lasting effect on the history of ideas. Some have excelled in linked fields to philosophy such as literature or mathematics, while their demands and protests for fair treatment on the basis of their identity as women, race or other differences. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read, enjoy and review this book.


The twenty portraits are designed collectively to assist in the process of changing “the popular perceptions of philosophy” by adopting “a broad definition of ‘philosopher’”. So this book begins with a woman, Diotima, who featured in Plato’s “Symposium” but who has never achieved the fame of the other star of Plato’s writing, Socrates. Hypatia was a mathematician first, but used her fame to question the current political status quo. Women from China, Ban Zhao, and Kashmir, Lalla also feature as early thinkers and influencers of thought. Mary Wollstonecraft is well known in Britain as author of the powerful “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792, but less well known is her predecessor in many ways, Mary Astell, writer of a feminist philosophical treatise “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies” in 1694. George Eliot – real name Mary Anne Evans – is primarily known as a fiction writer, but Clare Carlisle shows how her female characters were portraits of women under pressure from society in various ways. Mary Warnock, who died in 2019, introduced many to the study of ethics in her book “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ethics” (1998), as well as doing ground breaking work in the field of reproductive policies. American “structural injustice” and difficult racial situations have been criticised by several women here, while Islamic jurisprudence has been a contentious subject tackled by Azizah Y. al – Hibri who is the final subject of this book.


This is a book which also includes a list of further reading about and by the subjects of the portraits, which will be of great interest to those who wish to discover more about specific women. The list of other philosopher queens also means that those who did not make the list of twenty are recognised briefly and named to allow further investigation. The individual authors are identified and given due credit for the contributions. This is a very impressive book which is very readable for the non specialist or academic as a book of women who have made a difference. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of philosophical thought and action, and everyone who is fascinated by important feminist thinkers and beyond.   

Squadron Airborne by Elleston Trevor – A vivid 1955 novel reprinted by IWM Wartime Classics


The recent anniversary of the Battle of Britain has reminded many of what happened on the airfields of Britain in 1940. This is a novel of what really happened on those airfields, not only from the point of view of the pilots, but also of the aircrews, the men and women who repaired, refueled and made it possible for those planes to fly. After all, while bravery, luck and skill meant that the pilots defeated the odds, simply being on an airfield under attack to maintain aircraft was very dangerous. This is a world of slit trenches, continuous raids by German planes and lives at risk. The dialogue and behaviour is very authentic, as written by someone who was an engineer with Royal Air Force, from the desperation of finding a private place with a member of the opposite sex, through the alcohol and cigarettes used to calm the nerves, through to the technical descriptions of the planes and their running condition . This is a novel originally published in 1955, now republished in the excellent Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics Series, from an experienced and talented author. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book. 


 The book begins with the arrival of a young pilot, Peter Stuyckes, who is only nineteen years old with the minimum of training and experience yet is imminently expected to fly combat missions. He is helped not only by the Squadron Leader Mason especially as he is so determined to impress, but also Daisy Caplin, a veteran ground crew member who decides to look after him from her lofty age of twenty years old. Mason tells him of the need to preserve the precious aircraft in the face of the Luftwaffe, a point explored in the excellent and informative Introduction to this edition. Thus Struyckes feels the immense pressure to not only to survive, try to bring down enemy aircraft, and make sure his plane is not too badly damaged. One of the remarkable things about this book is that all the action takes place in one intense week, which manages to encompass loss, fierce battles and almost continuous daylight sorties. This book manages to be intensely personal, as the mental state of pilots is looked at as well as the determination on the part of the ground crew to get the planes airworthy as soon as possible, or “top line”.  The writing manages to capture the sense of the real people, brave, reckless, sanguine, knowing and confused. 


The writing in this novel is extremely involving from the first pages, as the beautiful pastoral scene of low lying mist cloaking the area and gradually lifts to reveal the planes. This is a book of contrasts but also consistency, as the pilots experience so many emotions in terms of flying and trying to destroy other planes. There is a moving element of them going beyond endurance, but also maintaining their sense of humour, even the ridiculous. The aircraft almost become characters in their own right, but they need intensive attention from the crew, especially as the nature of the action is so unpredictable and demanding. I thoroughly enjoyed this book if that is the right word for an engaging, frequently moving and sometimes amusing book. This is the story of survival amid conflict, at whatever the cost, and young people are plunged into a flight that feels against the odds. We have the benefit of hindsight, knowing that the airfields held up and prevented invasion until Hitler’s attention was distracted by another front, but this author manages to convey the sense of confusion and fear at the outcome of what must have seemed like a never ending battle. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys vivid descriptions of the Second World War, and a very human story of the men and women who were there.  


This is the seventh Wartime Classic from the Imperial War Museum I have reviewed on this blog. The standard is extremely high in this series. My favourite so far is “Plenty Under the Counter” by Kathleen Hewitt https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2019/09/22/plenty-under-the-counter-by-kathleen-hewitt-a-wartime-murder-mystery-with-and-element-of-comedy/   which manages to combine a murder mystery as well as a vivid account of life on the Home Front. That could of course change when I read for review “Green Hands”  by Barbara Whitton over the next few days!